Saturday, November 13, 2010

Outwardly firebrand, inwardly vulnerable

It is nine years since she was murdered but curiosity to learn more about her life hasn’t diminished. The sordid saga of atrocities committed on her and the tales of violence unleashed in retaliation provide limited narrative on her complex persona. Though Phoolan had become a legend of sorts in her short but vastly eventful existence, unsubstantiated conjectures continue to obscure the truth about her life.

Drawing on years of correspondence and personal interactions, Outlaw: India’s Bandit Queen and Me is a fresh attempt at unveiling the firebrand bandit by Roy Moxham. What began as a sympathetic gesture to cover her legal fees evolved into a brotherly relationship with the author following her release from jail. Outlaw is an intimate portrait of an angry woman and many faces of her vulnerable existence.

Phoolan’s has been an extreme case of exploitation on gender, caste and economic grounds but the social subjugation she went through manifests itself in the predominant patriarchal society every so often. However, Moxham tries to defend her vindictive and mostly brutal actions by asking questions that if the rich could buy immunity from justice in a country where the police and judiciary are corrupt, why victims could not be excused from delivering justice on their own?

Though she was lionized by the underprivileged for her grit and determination, her rise to power invited skepticism and mistrust as well. No wonder, as a member of parliament she remained vulnerable to dubious designs of the politicians as much as to her own family members who were eyeing their share in her new-found prosperity.

As a book and paper conservator living in London, Moxham did not plan to write a biography on Phoolan. However, the exchange of letters and personal encounters brought to light many facets of Phoolan’s life which the previous two biographies – 'Devi –The Bandit Queen' and 'India’s Bandit Queen' - were not privy to. Outlaw is not a work of scholarship but a must-read narrative on the unusual friendship between two people.

For those who have read or not read either of the two biographies and for those who have seen or not seen Shekhar Kapoor’s controversial film Bandit Queen, Outlaw offers a refreshing take on the life of a modern-day Robin Hood. I am convinced that Phoolan’s story must be told and retold in a society that has yet to come to terms with its inherent contradictions on equality and justice.....Link

Outlaw: India’s Bandit Queen and me
by Roy Moxham
Rider, Random House, London; 214 pages, Rs 599

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